This impressively rich point-and-click adventure game from the British indie studio Polygon Treehouse sweeps players into a sprawling Scandinavian fairytale with a razor-sharp edge. The protagonist, a young girl named Tove, must navigate a strange cel-shaded landscape to rescue her mischievous brother Lars from the clutches of a mythical beast.
It’s a compelling, unsettling child-abduction storyline that wouldn’t look out of place in a Scandi-noir drama. Although Röki’s snowy hills, giant lakes and cosy wood cabins may seem designed to nudge players into a state of hygge, a persistent air of menace prevents the experience from feeling too comfortable.
To find her brother, you must guide Tove through a vast array of lock-and-key puzzles, digging through mounds of snow or rooting through drawers to find a particular object, which will sometimes need to be combined with another to make your way forwards. Some of these puzzles are more challenging than others: at one point you must make your way through a dense forest with only the most subtle clues as guides, and with one wrong turn sending you back to where you started. I found it all fairly easy, so long as I took time to carefully survey my surroundings. Hints were a few clicks away when I hadn’t the foggiest idea where to look, but I rarely needed them.
Although Tove’s extensive scavenger hunt is repetitive, it is balanced by her honest and endearing dialogue. Themes of grief, fear and abandonment are woven so delicately into the action that progressing to the next area or challenge sometimes seems secondary to hearing Tove reveal another emotional secret or share some feeling about a family member, all of whom she has become separated from in one way or another.
Tove is whip-smart and has been forced to grow up fast, but nevertheless expresses childlike wonder at her surroundings. It’s a joy to see the world through her eyes, even when that world is filled with fear.
It is the striking cel-shaded design, though, that elevates Röki just above games such as Year Walk, which is similarly inspired by Scandinavian folklore. The design enhances minor artistic details – whether it’s snow glistening on a treetop or a hostile character’s imposing shadow – to create a more involving experience. Röki’s pleasing aesthetics are well-matched by an absorbing story that always keeps you on your guard.